Hiring for Humility: The Secret Ingredient to Exceptional and High-Performing Teams

Sasa Popovic Categories: Business Insights Date 23-Jun-2023 6 minutes to read
Hiring For Humility The Secret Ingredient To Exceptional And High Performing Teams News Blog

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    The business world is rapidly evolving. The adage "People are our greatest asset" has never been more relevant. Thanks to continuous striving for innovation - the daily complexity of workload grows, and tasks become more challenging – and it becomes paramount to have a high-performing team as they are seen as a unicorn that solves most problems. However, how can we have one?

    Over the last decade, countless methodologies have emerged to enhance employees' production and performances – from tailor-made development programs to profound team-building exercises to super-motivating rewards schemes. Yet, some teams fail – they struggle with internal conflicts and cannot reach goals or live up to their full potential. On the other hand – some teams truly make it happen.

    So, what might be the reason? What is missing in the struggling teams? The answer might lie in something deceptively simple yet impactful: humility.

    Humility is an attribute that is often underestimated and overlooked. However, it can fundamentally transform team dynamics and lead to a culture of mutual respect, collaboration, and continuous learning. This unique trait can be a game changer and lead to not only successful but harmonious teams that are, at the same time – very resilient.

    Although it is relatively new, experts have been developing the "Hiring for Humility" concept for some time. This concept suggests humility as a critical factor (as important as education and technical skills) in building exceptional teams. In the following sections, I'll discuss this paradigm shift and why I think it's a focal point in your recruitment strategies and probably one of the best decisions you'll make for yourself and your company.

    Why Humility Matters for Leadership and Teams

    Although at first unnoticed, over time, humility has proven itself to be a surprising powerhouse trait that quietly but effectively influenced and reshaped the team dynamics and, at the top level, influenced our leadership and Vega IT.

    Unsurprisingly, humility was previously often thought to be a weakness. But, when utilized effectively, it becomes a powerful strength surpassing all others. It defies vanity and arrogance as it provides a safe space to deeply understand one's strengths and weaknesses. It helps people to listen, learn and ultimately evolve as it values collective success over personal success.

    When team members practice humility, the impact of this unique trait becomes obvious – mutual respect and trust develop, building a foundation for effective collaboration. And when the team members feel heard and valued, they are likely to contribute their best work, share unique ideas, and support each other on the path to success. The humble team appreciates each member's diverse skills and perspectives and recognizes that they can achieve great things together.

    Secondly, as I often wrote in previous articles, humility positively impacts resilience. Humble teams are not afraid of failures – they see them as a continuous loop of improvement; they can objectively look at their performance and explore what they can do better next time, avoid mistakes, and improve their adaptability.

    And as for leadership, humility becomes an absolute game-changer, as humble leaders are not afraid to hire the best people on the market, those that are smarter than themselves. They see them as a path to elevating the team's success to an entirely new level. Also, humble learners tend to create an open and transparent workplace where feedback is encouraged, ideas are valued, and everyone feels like an essential part of the team.

    For example, Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, exemplifies how humility was embraced in leadership. Since he assumed his role, he actively fostered a "learn-it-all' culture that encourages curiosity and learning. His humble approach has been pivotal in revitalizing Microsoft's ethos.

    Humility empowers employees and the leadership to grow beyond their boundaries and work towards the common goal. So when you prioritize humility in your hiring process, you will not only bring the desirable trait but also invest in a healthy and successful company.

    Powerful Interconnectedness Between Intelligence and Humility

    From experience, I would like to point out that humility and intelligence are interconnected in human relations and are a duo that drives innovation, collaboration, and growth. Intelligence is shown by the individual's ability to understand, grasp complex concepts, solve problems, and generate ideas, and it is put into sixth gear when coupled with humility. When individuals exhibit both traits, they can leverage their knowledge effectively.

    Humility, however, involves acknowledging one's limitations and appreciating strength - it paves the way for intelligent individuals to continue growing and learning. Humble people recognize that despite all their knowledge, there is still more to learn, more insights to gain, and more perspectives to incorporate.

    When you seek candidates who embody intelligence and humility, companies build a culture that promotes mutual respect, high performance, and continuous learning. Let's quickly discuss how to incorporate 'Hiring for Humility' into your recruitment strategy.

    Reimagining Recruitment: Why We Need to Move Beyond Traditional Hiring

    After understanding the balance between intelligence and humility, I will briefly discuss common pitfalls many companies make. During recruitment, companies focus on solid academic qualifications, exceptional technical skills, and desirable professional experience.

    These hard skills are undoubtedly necessary. However, they provide a relatively narrow view of someone's potential. A brilliant software engineer may be able to write unique code but struggle to collaborate within the team or be unwilling to accept constructive feedback. Also, a business development person with impressive sales skills might falter when sharing the credit with other team members.

    So, if your recruitment strategies are only based on hard skills and achievement, they will be ill-equipped to evaluate soft skills, especially traits like humility, and if this is not recognized on time, you risk inviting toxicity to your company, inhibiting your growth and stifling creativity. Of course, there is always a path forward – and that is a shift in perspective.

    Enter humility - the great balancer. Essential yet tangible quality that often gets overlooked. Paired with hard skills and intelligence, the team members become a true powerhouse. Despite their intellectual prowess, humble individuals will never project superiority or monopolize conversations – instead, they will listen, appreciate different perceptions, and adapt to better ideas. Also, they are aware of individual limitations and are open to learning and building a culture of kaizen – continuous improvement.

    Combining all attributes, we get a synergistic company that builds compelling and harmonious teams, thus gaining a competitive edge.

    During his tenure as CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally had a "Working Together" philosophy. This approach championed openness, honesty, and humility, and Mulally helped realign Ford's corporate culture, ultimately leading the company through a remarkable turnaround in a critical period.

    However, the challenge remains in identifying and attracting humble individuals and integrating 'Hiring for Humility' into recruitment. How can we do it? Please also consider that I will discuss this from a top level as someone who has helped my fantastic team members to integrate traits we deem essential into our recruitment process.

    First, you must reevaluate your job descriptions, as they are the primary gateway to prospective employees. The job postings should emphasize the importance of humility, teamwork, and emotional intelligence. Additionally, when describing the company culture, you should signal collaboration, continuous learning, and respect for diverse perspectives.

    Next, you must revamp the interview process and move beyond the traditional interview and usual questions about qualifications and past achievements. Try to delve deeper into understanding the candidate's values, attitudes, and interpersonal dynamics. Focus on questions about resolving conflicts, handling criticism, or moments when team goals were placed above personal achievements.

    Third, consider including team-based assessment, as this will help you see candidates interacting with potential colleagues in a simulated work scenario. This can provide direct observation and insight into their humility or lack of it.

    Lastly, recruitment managers need to prioritize humility in their decision-making process. We are all easily swayed by impressive and polished portfolios of candidates' success; however, if they show signs of arrogance or dismissiveness - it's a path you are unwilling to take.

    The Future of Hiring: Emphasizing Emotional Intelligence and Humility

    As we shift toward ever more interconnected and collaborative businesses, it becomes more important to hire for humility. From nice to have a trait, it becomes a critical factor when building sustainable, high-performing teams. Hiring practices must evolve. We must focus more on emotional intelligence and desirable traits than pure technical competency. This is not merely a recommendation but an impending necessity.

    As leaders, let's focus on championing this paradigm shift and setting the stage for the future where humility is acknowledged as a cornerstone of successful organizations.

    Sasa Popovic Partner and CEO

    Strategic. Creative. Practical. Sasa is the supervisor for every project that the company takes on.